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Asia Minute: Thailand’s Hand of Defiance

AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
Pro-democracy students raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute during a protest rally in front of Education Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020.

This week, police in Thailand arrested the leaders of a pro-democracy movement. Protests have been going on for several weeks — and those demonstrating against the current government are using a particular sign of defiance.

Activists and politicians have used a variety of hand gestures over the years – from peace signs to shakas, a clenched fist to a thumbs-up.

For protestors in Thailand, a single hand with three fingers lifted in the air has come to dominate pictures of anti-government demonstrations. Some call it “The Hunger Games Salute.”

In that movie, it’s a symbol of rebellion against totalitarian authority — standing for thank you, admiration, and goodbye to someone you love.

Interpreting its meaning in the context of current events in Thailand has sparked some disagreement. The Associated Press reports some protestors say it’s a throwback to the rallying cry of the French revolution — liberty, equality, fraternity. Others have said it means freedom, election, and democracy.

Another version favors “No coup, liberty and democracy.”

A more action-oriented reading is a call for the government to resign, dissolve the parliament, and hold new elections.

Whether or not the precise meaning is even important, the gesture is technically illegal. That’s been the case for more than six years now — soon after it first popped up in the weeks after the military coup that overthrew Thailand’s elected government in the spring of 2014.

This week, local media including the Bangkok Post reportthe three-finger salute has spread from university campuses to high schools.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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